​Like just about everything else in life these days, the internet is becoming the center of our digital universe, revolutionizing the way we conduct our day-to-day activities at home, work and school.

In fact, according to national statistics, the online world is turning the field of higher education upside down – in a good way. A study conducted recently by the U.S. Department of Education revealed that more than 5.5 million students at surveyed college campuses took at least one online course and about half of them were enrolled in fully online programs. It also showed that most of the students preferred to take the classes at their local in-state universities.

This is strikingly apparent throughout the CSU’s 23-campus system, the largest in the country, where online classes leading to bachelor and graduate degrees are being added every semester to meet the demand of current and future student bodies. To keep pace with this trend, CSU is also leading the way to constantly increase the amount of new web-based and internet-accessible student and faculty resources.

“CSU provides students many opportunities to add fully online courses to their schedule throughout the year,” said Gerry Hanley, assistant vice chancellor of academic technology services. “And a significant number of students (more than 100,000) are taking fully online courses within their state-supported academic programs.”

He also noted that the CSU offers 199 fully online and hybrid degree programs with study concentrations. That figure is expected to continue to increase in the years ahead, Hanley added.

Meeting the Demand

“Fully online degree programs are delivering the professional workforce needs for advanced degrees with 88 percent of the online program graduates earning masters degrees,” he said.

As students prepare for CSU’s online summer classes, they can choose from more than a thousand courses which will be 100 percent online and fully transferable. Students are advised to check with their academic advisors to ensure that the classes count toward their major and specific degree requirements. It’s easy to explore the full range of online summer courses at the Cal State Online website (https://www.calstateonline.net/Summer-Courses).

Degrees offered

Currently, online bachelor’s degrees include business and management, computer and information sciences, education, engineering, health professions and health sciences, human development, interdisciplinary studies, public affairs and services and social sciences.

Master’s degrees are offered online in agriculture and natural resources, business and management, communications, computer and information sciences, education, engineering, health professions and health sciences, humanities, interdisciplinary studies, library science, mathematics, public affairs and services and social sciences. Doctorate degrees are obtainable in the education and health professionals and health sciences programs.

The MIST effect

One of the more unique degree programs in the CSU system is MIST, or master of sciences in instructional science and technology. Graduate students have been taking advantage of MIST for two decades. The CSU was one of the first university systems in the country to recognize the growing demand by business and industry, schools and other organizations for experts in instructional design and technology. MIST is designed to provide today’s educators, trainers and e-learning developers with command of the most current technology tools and teaching methods needed to advance their careers.

MIST is offered through CSU Monterey Bay and can be completed 100 percent online, with flexible schedules to meet the needs of employed professionals or caregiving adults.

MERLOT Savings

CSU’s leadership in online education is matched by its two-decade-long quest to offer more affordable online educational resource services for all students and faculty. The reason: The rising cost of tuition is accompanied by increased prices for school supplies, especially textbooks and lab equipment. Some estimates show the average cost of textbooks per student is upwards of $1,000 per year. Studies have shown that students have opted to not buy the required textbooks, take fewer courses, drop or withdraw from classes and fail a course.

Recognizing this vital need for more affordable educational materials for both online and on-campus students, the CSU launched the MERLOT program – Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching (www.merlot.org).

During the first phase of the program six years ago, faculty were offered Open Educational Resources, or OER, (free online instructional resources) that can be reused and remixed, and CSU-licensed library resources, including learning management systems and other technologies, for use in their courses.

Two years later CSU convinced textbook publishers to offer digital etextbooks for purchase or rent at a considerable cost-saving for students. Today, students using CSU’s popular Rent Digital program can receive a 60 percent or higher discount on the etextbooks which can be printed out if they choose. More than 50,000 etextbook titles are now available for students and faculty.

At about the same time, the California state senate passed legislation designating the CSU to take the lead in developing and delivering an open, online library of free textbooks and other educational resources for faculty and staff of all three of the state’s higher education systems – California State University, the University of California and the California Community Colleges.

As part of the matching funds requirement in the bill, the CSU was able to obtain grants totaling $1 million from the William and Flora Hewlett and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundations. With another million dollars from the state, the California Open Online Library collection continues to grow (www.cool4ed.org).

Momentum Builds

CSU’s aggressive efforts to provide greater access to online classes and reduce the costs of associated learning resources have not gone unnoticed by state, national and international educators. Since 1997, when the university system began establishing and delivering effective programs like MERLOT with its free online course curriculum, free etextbooks and other instructional materials, more than 500 universities and colleges have adopted similar programs which have benefitted millions of students, faculty, staff, K-12 teachers and other educators.

What Does It All Mean?

If the United States is going to remain competitive in an ever-expanding global economy, its citizens must stay ahead of the academic curve. Unlike previous generations that considered a high school diploma the key to future success, today’s society requires a college degree. Nobody knows that more than the CSU that is making online degree programs more accessible to students of all ages, whether the “traditional” college-aged student, or the working adult who needs scheduling flexibility.